How to avoid malware on Android in one easy step

Jack Wallen offers up his best advice for avoiding malware on Android.

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Image: Jack Wallen

We're back to the topic that bears repeating every month or so: Android and malware. They seem to be like chocolate and peanut butter these days. But why? Is it the developer's fault? Is the onus on Google?

I'm going to open a rather messy can of worms and say the blame could easily fall on the shoulders of everyone involved--including the user. But in the end, no matter how secure a platform Google released, if Android is used poorly, bad things will happen. The same holds true for Windows, macOS, and (gasp) even Linux. 

That's right. I could deploy a Linux desktop to someone and if they misuse the platform, similar bad things could happen. 

So what's a user to do? Nothing different than I've said before. In fact, I laid out a simple plan for users in 4 ways to avoid malware on Android. But as many an admin knows, the simpler the advice is for end users, the more likely the advice will stick.

My advice? Only install applications you have to have.

SEE: Windows 10 security: A guide for business leaders (TechRepublic Premium)

How users use devices

I know, it's not really that easy. Why? Because users don't have the control necessary to limit themselves to only installing required applications. According to this article from sister site ZDNet, social media takes up the bulk of smartphone usage, with Americans spending an average of just over an hour a day on Facebook and 48 minutes on Instagram. Millennials spend roughly 48 minutes per day texting, versus 30 minutes for baby boomers. Boomers, on the other hand, spend 43 minutes per day on email, whereas millennials spend less than 10 minutes per day within an email app.

Outside of that, the majority of time spent on smartphones is divided between the following apps/services:

  • Internet 
  • Podcasts
  • Snapchat
  • Music
  • Twitter
  • Youtube
  • News apps
  • Messenger
  • Phone 

So our full list of most-used apps and services looks like:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Texting
  • Phone
  • Internet
  • Podcasts
  • Snapchat
  • Music
  • Twitter
  • Youtube
  • Messenger
  • News apps
  • Email

Of those apps/services, Android has the following built into its ecosystem:

  • Texting - Messages
  • Phone - Phone app
  • Internet - Chrome
  • Podcasts - Play Music 
  • Music - Play Music
  • Youtube - Youtube app
  • Messenger - Messenger app
  • News Apps - Google News
  • Email - Gmail app

What's left over? 

  • Instagram
  • Snapchat
  • Twitter
  • Facebook

By installing only four apps, the majority of millennials and boomers can satisfy all of their mobile needs. Three simple apps, each of which are found in the Google Play Store and have been thoroughly vetted by both the companies that created them and Google itself. 

Or have they? 

Back in 2014, more than four million Snapchat users' data was released by hackers reacting to Snapchat's claim it had no knowledge of vulnerabilities. This wasn't an issue with the Snapchat app, but the Snapchat service. And it wasn't malware. Installing the Snapchat app on an Android device wasn't accompanied by malicious code. The app itself was safe.

As are all of the apps on the list above. At least they are as safe as any piece of software can be. Which is to say, not 100%. But that's the risk we all take for living an always-connected life. As the saying goes, any computer connected to the internet is vulnerable.

What's the solution?

This is where it gets simple. If you want to avoid malware on Android, you install only the apps you must have to do your work. Outside of that, you install Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter and use the built-in apps to round out your experience. 

I know what you're asking. What about games? Funny thing, games. The majority of responses to the original ZDNet screen time poll never mentioned games. Of course we all know that the mobile gaming industry is massive, so people are--without a doubt--playing games on their devices. For those that do, I would suggest one of two things:

  1. Have a separate device for games.
  2. Only install games from official companies or reputable developers.

In the end, the solution is to limit the apps you install on your device and to only install those apps from the Google Play Store.

Do that and the chances of your device getting infected with malware is drastically reduced. Just remember, nothing is guaranteed in this digital age. Be safe.

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